A significant upgrade to the Grant Connell Tennis Centre planned for this fall is drawing criticism from a local environmentalist.
The proposal, announced June 18 by the District of North Vancouver, calls for the addition of three new courts, 10 new parking spaces and a raised viewing area to the Lloyd Avenue community facility.
While the North Shore's tennis community is cheering the news, a local environmentalist said it comes with a high ecological cost.
Richard Cochrane, a conservationist and a nearby resident, is deeply concerned the new courts, set to be built on undeveloped land south of the existing centre building, will encroach on wilderness and require the removal of trees. More tennis will come at the expense of animal habitat, he said.
"It's nice to have parklands where there is wildlife using it instead of having a beautified park-like setting that accommodates people but not animals," he said. "The small birds use the underbrush for foraging. Take away the blackberry bushes and small shrubs and they have less protection from animals and birds of prey."
The land is also already well used for recreation, including wildlife photography, hiking, dog walking and berry picking, Cochrane added.
"I go in there to photograph the beavers, all the bird life. I go by there a lot, just walking through," he said.
According to measurements Cochrane took himself, the centre could fit in three more courts in a smaller fenced-in area just south of the current building that wouldn't require the removal of any trees.
He said he hopes the district would reconsider even though it would eliminate the raised viewing area and new parking spaces.
Tennis players, however, say the upgrade is long overdue.
"We're very pleased that we're able to go ahead on the three courts," said Elmer Helm, president of the North Vancouver Tennis Society, which runs the centre. "We have big waiting lists at the centre. It's very hard to get court time."
With a wide membership, tennis lessons and a kids' tennis program running on the existing six courts, folks wanting court time typically have to book a week in advance, Helm said.
Helm and the society have been trying to get an expansion for the last 10 years.
Drastically changing the plans or stopping the expansion is unlikely, according to District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton.
Up until recent financial troubles, TransLink was eyeing the land for an expansion of its bus yard on the other side of Lloyd Avenue, Walton said.
"It's always been scheduled for functional development, whether it's for pubic transportation or public recreation. I don't recall that that land was every going to be set aside for natural space," he said.
As for the environment, Walton said he and district council share Cochrane's concerns, especially as the area appears to be better off now than it has been since the area was developed generations ago.
"That's a very healthy ecosystem down there," Walton said, referring to the beavers, crayfish, salmon and birds that call the riparian area to the south home.
"Most of the lands around there lost their natural quality 100 years ago."
The area already has rigid constraints on development due to the federally mandated 30-metre setback from MacKay Creek. The society's proposal is a scaled-back version of one originally requested, which called for six new courts.
That plan was nixed when it was found the new building would sit too close to the creek banks.
Walton said district council would not have approved the project if it meant any further risk to the creek.
"The quality of the creek is of critical importance right there. There's no question of that. We wouldn't compromise that for a second," he said.
And so far, there has been little opposition to the plan, Walton added. A number of people have written to him, asking why there can't be more courts put in, but no one has written asking him to stop the centre's expansion.
"If there are significant concerns, they haven't reached my ears," he said.
Before the $2-million expansion can go forward, it must go through a typical development application process.
If approved, construction is expected to start this fall and the courts should be ready for play sometime in 2013.